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Chemistry is all around us
Copyright 2015
This project has been funded with
support from the European Commission

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Chemistry in Science Fiction

The Scientist in Science Fiction


In topic two we already got to know some scientists playing major roles in science fiction films. Basically, there seem to be four general types of scientists:
  1. Scientists with good intentions, but the experiment goes awfully wrong.
  2. Scientists with good intentions who themselves get changed to the worse by their own experiments and sometimes become
  3. The insane scientific genius who wants to destroy or enslave the world
  4. The enlightened scientist who saves the world (or at least a town) from aliens, monsters, or insane scientists

The role and portrait of the scientist as displayed in science fiction films alternately reflect the (social) respect, authority, responsibilities, understanding, apprehension, or the perception of scientific work in their respective times.

And as a representative of the science and the scientific work they represent in the film, the films also throw a light on the perception of the natural sciences per se in their respective times.

Furthermore, together with the image of the scientist the films – deliberately or not – deal with gender aspects, the role of the authorities, questions of morale, contemporary events and scientific standards, anthropocentric world view, mono causality versus multidimensional point of view, etc.

Focussing on the scientist, we are going to have a look at the following films:

“Them”, 1954, black and white, 89 Minutes, director Gordon Douglas. In the desert of Nevada, where the USA have tested an atomic bomb, radioactive rays have turned small ants into gigantic dangerous monsters that kill everything they meet. A biologist gives the clue, and with military force the queens can be destroyed.

“Tarantula”, 1955, directed by Jack Arnold is a black-and-white film, 77 Minutes long. The film is about a biological researcher who is trying to prevent food shortages. He invents a special nutrient which causes animals to grow to many times their normal size. One of this animals in the laboratory, a tarantula, is freed, grows to gigantic proportions and causes havoc. The film was made in the 50s and during the McCarthy ear in the USA.

“The Monolith Monsters”, 1957, directed by John Sherwood, is a science fiction film based on a story by Jack Arnold and Robert M. Fresco. A meteor crashes into the desert region of San Angelo, California. Not only does it grow and and multiply to black monoliths of immense proportions, the material petrifies people into stone, thus putting scientist Dave Miller, head of the geological office, into action.

“Andromeda Strain” ,1971, an American science-fiction film directed by Robert Wise, is based on the book by Michael Crichton. The film features a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin that causes rapid, fatal blood clotting.

“Spider-Man 2”, 2004, directed by Sam Raimi, is a science fiction film based on the fictional Marvel comic character Spider-Man. The main scientist in this film is Dr. Otto Octavius, who turns insane and causes havoc following a failed experiment and the death of his wife.

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”, 2007, directed by Tim Story, is a science fiction film based on the Fantastic Four comic books. The plot centres around scientist Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four (the good) and scientist Victor Von Doom (the bad) working together to fight the cosmic power Galactus.

“Splice”, 2009, directed by Vincenzo Natali , is about a young scientist couple that introduces human DNA into their work of splicing together the DNA of different animals to create new hybrid animals for medical use. Their decision to use human DNA in a hybrid in order to revolutionise science and medicine leads to unexpected results.

With the exception of the TV series “Torchwood”, the series “Bones” and “C.S.I.” are not really considered science-fiction. However, taking a closer look at the laboratories and equipment being presented in these series, it becomes clear that the technology shown in these series is – although plausible and not far-fetched – indeed science fiction. To give an impression on scientists portrayed in these series, we are going to have a look at the following films:

Season 1, film 8: The Girl in the Fridge
Season 2, film 5: The Truth in the Lye
Season 2, film 20: The Glowing Bones in the Old Stone House

Season 2, film 6: Reset

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Las Vegas)”
Season 1, film 14: To Halve and to Hold
Season 1, film 19: Gentle, Gentle